Seeing is believing – right? Well, usually. But for a couple of handy Kiwis, what they saw was not exactly what they were getting.
Cheryl Johnson and husband James from Tokomaru Bay paid over $1000 for their ladder, bought from major TV Shop marketing company Brand Developers. Cheryl and James wanted to paint the outside of their house, and do some work at the local golf club. Cheryl said the adverts for the Transforma Ladder made it look ideal – she was especially swayed by the long plank, or trellis, that's designed to give a stable surface to walk along.
Cheryl says she called Brand Developers and found the conversation "way too long and way too confusing". At one point they asked if she wanted to purchase a plank, but she says she declined, because she thought, "Why would I want to order another one?" The ladder duly arrived, along with several extras, but no plank.
Cheryl called Brand Developers to inquire about the whereabouts of the plank. She says they agreed a plank should have been included, and promised to send one out. Cheryl eventually received a package but it contained two flip out step platforms - items they'd already got. So she rang again and asked for the manager who told her the plank definitely wasn't included and that she'd have to buy one.
The manager told Cheryl that the ladder advert was like adverts for cooking appliances; they might show food, but that doesn’t mean the food comes with the appliance in the post. The manager also pointed out that at the end of the advert there was no mention of the plank being included. Cheryl said that she thought the ad was misleading, as it claimed the ladder transformed into 35 positions, four of which included the plank. Cheryl reckoned that many people watching would assume they were getting the complete package shown on the TV advertisement, especially for its $1200 pricetag.
Another customer, Mike Proude from Ohakune, also felt misled. He'd rang Brand Developers to order a heater for his Dad, but was convinced to buy the Transforma ladder as well. He says when he told his partner Jamie, she'd asked, "does it come with all the bits and pieces? And I said, 'yes, I assume so because I've seen them advertised on TV".
Mike decided to check and so he rang Brand Developers back. They told him that no, it didn't come with all the accessories. He decided to cancel the order and asked for a refund. He then emailed the company to reiterate that he didn't want the ladder and wanted his money back instead. But Brand Developers still sent out the huge parcel, which left Mike responsible for freight costs to send it back. To add insult to injury, he says he saw a very similar ladder in Mitre10 for $450. He'd paid over $600 for the one he'd seen advertised on TV.
Fair Go put these complaints to the company, which said: "I need to be very clear that we do not believe that there is or has been any misleading advertising with the ladder. We have a very long relationship advertising on TVNZ and selling to the New Zealand public and we know that through this history and the robust advertising processes in New Zealand, where advertisements are approved by Commercial Approvals Bureau (CAB), our advertising is not misleading".
As for their opinion on pricing, CEO Scott Mitchell added, "There are multiple different offers and configurations available based on the weight restrictions that it can be used for, the height it can go to, the accessories that come with it and if there are any current promotions on. The pricing ranges from $439.99 up to $1,209.99 per ladder."
But Cheryl disagreed. "It's showing things you don't get - how can that be fine? It's really misleading," she said.
Fair Go asked the Commerce Commission who told us that in terms of the Fair Trading Act, it's the overall impression of an advert that's important. What’s more, it's a breach of the Act to mislead by omission, as appears to have happened here – there is no disclaimer clarifying that the plank isn't included as part of the 24-in-1 deal. Cheryl would like to see adverts that make it really clear what you are getting and for what price.
Credit is due to Brand Developers, though. After Fair Go got involved, Scott Mitchell told us: "I am happy to offer Cheryl Johnson a free plank to try and overcome her experience with TV Shop. However, please note this does not come with an admission of guilt, it's just a very generous offer to try and resolve the customer's misunderstanding to ensure they have a great experience with our product."
After Mike decided he'd keep his ladder rather than sending it back, he was sent his extra accessories, too, so that's two happy customers now able to use their ladders in all 35 positions. Mike just has one word of warning to any future customers: "Double-check on the phone what you're getting and make sure you verify prices".